Most staffing businesses don’t (or shouldn’t, at least) compete on price alone. For one thing, it’s a race to the bottom; for another, larger companies can soon eclipse your lowest margins with their economies of scale. Instead, staffing companies tend to compete on a combination of price and differentiation (what makes their people special).
You can differentiate based on your people (qualifications) or the sector you serve (technical, health care, etc.), on your location, your response time, the free cookies you offer to every customer, or any combination of those qualities (when in doubt, give out more cookies). But no matter how you differentiate, your business’s reputation can make the difference between competing on differentiation and price and having to compete on price alone.
Reputation has always been crucial to staffing businesses, but in the past 10 years, building and maintaining a good reputation has become both easier and more difficult, thanks to the advent of online communications that go both ways: not just from a company to its potential clients and candidates, but from those clients and especially those candidates back to a company.
Now, if your customers have a lackluster experience, not only do you have to worry about them telling their immediate circle of friends, you have to worry about them posting about the experience to sites that can be read by the world at large—including your own site.
1. Know your reputation.
The best way to know how you’re doing is to ask your clients and candidates. Information-gathering tools can be as simple as a short survey given out to associates after a certain amount of time on the job, or as detailed as a quarterly how-we-doin’ meeting with your biggest clients. If you’re really serious about knowing your reputation, contact the clients who have stopped using you and offer an incentive for their honest feedback on your performance. (And remember, you can enter all of this information in COATS. You can even code it with a special prefix, such as “MktRsch,” for creating future reports.)
You can also use online research to see how you’re perceived by potential candidates and clients alike. Set up Google Alerts for your company’s name and you can have company mentions sent directly to email or an RSS reader.
2. Strengthen your reputation.
If your research reveals clear, consistent problems, obviously, fix them quickly. You might find that certain aspects of your service don’t work optimally with how your clients do business; if so, begin investigating ways to deliver the best customer experience you can (after all, that’s the part of your competitive strategy that you can use to raise rates eventually). You could also consider taking advantage of tools that increase your speed and responsiveness, such as COATS’ online applications or texting.
It’s trickier for candidates; sometimes doing the right thing for your clients can mean doing the wrong thing from a candidate’s perspective, and candidates aren’t always shy about expressing this. The best way to counter negative feedback from your candidates, when it’s not something you can fix or improve, is to train everyone in your offices to be polite, professional and kind—but also fair, consistent and firm.
Whatever feedback you receive from clients and candidates, treat it as a learning experience, and share your learning through your company’s blog, Facebook page, etc.
3. Promote your reputation.
Bad news might attract more attention than good news, but a strong foundation of good reviews and reports of positive experiences can build a reputation that can withstand the occasional barb from a cranky candidate. If you know you’ve got some happy clients and candidates, ask them for reviews and testimonials. (It’s best not to offer an incentive for testimonials, either for clients or candidates; otherwise, it can look a little dodgy.)
Even bad reviews or comments can provide a great opportunity to bolster your reputation, if you can respond to these comments with politeness and a genuine desire to improve the commenter’s experience. This has the double impact of the attention that bad news gets plus a chance to show how great your company can be.